Category Archives: News

High school drone project could save lives in water

32a2494d828a5a01fe093b3aee03bd80_originalFive seniors at King Low Heywood Thomas High School in Stamford, Connecticut won’t be going to class during the month of May.

Instead, they’ll be building something that could save your life, and it’s made possible by a drone.

It’s called Project Ryptide, and it’s an automatically inflating life preserver ring that snaps onto your drone. Lifeguards with the Ryptide attachment and life preserver would be able to snap it on within a few seconds, fly over to a swimmer in trouble, and deliver them a life preserver.

And it’s not just lifeguards who could use this. In fact, Piedra said this may come in most handy in places where there is no lifeguard.

“Any casual person going to the beach can bring their drone, and now they can be a sort of lifeguard,” said the project’s leader Bill Piedra. “They could deliver a personal flotation device and keep the person’s head above water.”

It’s not uncommon to see drones flying around beaches, operated by hobbyists wanting to take pictures. Continue reading High school drone project could save lives in water

Drone-company funding may jump on FAA decision

The following piece is an excerpt from an article I wrote for Read the entire story here.

The Federal Aviation Administration unveiled new proposed rules this week for the operation of commercial drones.

Until now, the use of drones was essentially banned unless the operator applied for a Section 333 permit, which requires a licensed pilot and a cumbersome process of about 120 days.

Under the new guidelines, drones could legally fly for commercial purposes if they travel below 500 feet during daylight hours and within sight of the operator, and as long as the pilot is age 17 or older and has passed a written test.

The rules would “provide probably the most flexible regime for unmanned aircraft, 55 pounds or less, that exists anywhere in the world,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said on a conference call on Sunday.

And with more flexible rules regarding commercial drones, some predict funding for drone startups will skyrocket. Funding for such enterprises has already increased 104% year-over-year, according to data from CB Insights.

CB Insights


“The time is now for investors to allow the drone industry to grow, especially drone-integration companies focused on providing whole solutions for organizations unfamiliar with the market,” said Vinny Capobianco, the co-founder of Flyspan Systems, a drone startup that provides systems-integration services.

Capobianco’s company is among the recent explosion of startups focused on advancing drones. Capobianco has spent the past year working on the commercial side, including projects that involve film, security and agriculture. His company recently opened a seed round of funding.

“A new age of aviation has begun that will accelerate rapidly over the next few years,” he said.

Between 2010 and 2012, there were fewer than five venture-capital deals with drone companies, according to CB Insights. Now, there are at least 10 companies with Series A funding or more.

“We’re clearly at the very beginning of a really big commercial opportunity. I’m not sure that we see unleashing of demand in the wake of the FAA’s proposed regulations. Rather, the demand for commercial uses seems like something that will steadily grow in the coming months and years,” said Eric Norlin of SK Ventures, which has backed companies such as drone manufacturer 3D Robotics and aerial-robotics platform Skycatch.

CB Insights


The world’s largest drone manufacturer, DJI, which generated 2013 sales of $130 million, said it is in talks with new investors for funding, according to a Bloomberg News report. The Chinese drone maker said its sales tripled last year and that the company is worth “significantly more” than the $1.6 billion valuation it received last year.

The following piece is an excerpt from an article I wrote for Read the entire story here.

Florida high school offers “Drone Team Pink” UAV program

After the closing school bell at Choctawhatchee High School rings, the track team whizzes by the field. Overhead, something’s whirring.

It’s a drone, and it’s being operated by someone like 16-year-old sophomore Dharbi Jens or 17-year-old senior Jojo Parrett.

“My friends on the track team run by and see us flying and say, ‘wow, can I give it a go?’”, Jens said. “I think they’re pretty jealous.”

Photo courtesy of Sean McSheehy
Photo courtesy of Sean McSheehy

It’s something any adult who has a drone now would be jealous of: Choctawhatchee High School has its own drone team called Drone Team Pink.

The high school is one of a handful in the nation that offers private pilot training, engineering, and aviation legislation and regulation.

The group is led by Sean McSheehy, who teaches an Intro to Aviation course for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – Worldwide at the Fort Walton, Florida high school, which allows high school students to get college credit. Drone Team Pink meets for about two hours once a week and is specifically focused on getting young women involved in STEM education while providing opportunities for students of all levels to fly drones.

“Women aren’t really represented in the STEM field,” Jens said. “We had a 3D printer in our school, and it’s just so fun flying drones.”

Some of the students were involved in 3D printing process, and they fly drones down at the soccer field with McSheehy.

“It’s a lot of hands-on work,” Jens said.

Senior Dana Heintzelman, 18, was involved in the 3D printing process.

“In our engineering department, we have 3D printers. You need to have a model and all the dimensions of what you’re trying to print,” she said. “A prop guard for DJI took about 2.5 hours.”

Oh, and the airframes were made using pink filament. Continue reading Florida high school offers “Drone Team Pink” UAV program

How a drone created the first high res 3D model of Christ the Redeemer in Rio

Photo: Pix4D and Aeryon Labs
Photo: Pix4D and Aeryon Labs

How do you map and model a 38 meter tall statue that’s located atop a 700 meter tall mountain? The obvious solution is LIDAR, a remote sensing technology that collects 3-dimensional point clouds of the Earth’s surface.

But with a statue so large and situated in a difficult to access location, it was a seemingly impossible task.

That’s until a team of engineers and drone pilots — along with the Aeryon UAV platform and Pix4D’s image processing software proved them wrong by mapping the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janerio, said to be Brazil’s most important monument.

Photo: Pix4D and Aeryon Labs

“Creating the first ever accurate 3D model of such a renowned statue with our software is a great way to showcase how image processing technology can achieve results that traditional technologies haven’t been able to produce,” said Christoph Strecha, CEO and Founder of Pix4D. “With its intricate detail, the statue was also a perfect structure to test out our new 3D textured mesh.”

But even with a drone, collecting the data is not easy.

Piloted by Aeryon Labs’ April Blaylock the drone was constricted by weather and wind conditions at the mountain’s high altitude, while also restricted by specific daylight hours due to shadows that caused inconsistent lighting conditions.

When captured, 2,090 images were converted into a 3D model by Pix4D’s Lisa Chen.4qlLEpzseoaXHxc2sDtDc_wVYYORsDKIVHmFQPxD8sw

The team also included Sonja Betschart, CMO of Pix4D, Lisa Chen, Celso Santos and Benoit Brot.

Some crazy numbers:

  • 2,090: the number of images used to created the 3D model
  • 2.5 million: the number of triangles with a texture of 16374X16384 used for the mesh
  • 6: number of days it took to acquire the images
  • 19: number of 10-minute flights it took to acquire the images
  • 2: number of weeks it took for the 3D reconstruction
  • 38: height of the Christ the Reedemer statue (in meters)
  • 28: armspan of the Christ the Reedemer statue (in meters)

The project will eventually be used by Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro.


“This project took years of waiting by the NEXT lab team and many months of planning and collaboration across several time zones to pull the technologies together in Rio,” commented Dave Kroetsch, Aeryon’s President and CEO. “We are pleased to have participated and that the Aeryon UAV platform was instrumental in creating the first accurate 3D model of the Christ the Redeemer monument.”

Watch it all on video below:

Can’t hire enough waiters at your restaurant? Hire a drone

The following piece is an excerpt from an article I wrote for Read the entire story here.

MW-DF395_infini_20150211185454_ZH-1Singapore restaurant chain Timbre Group has made some new additions to its waitstaff, and unlike their colleagues, the fresh hires can fly and don’t earn wages.

Infinium Robotics’ drones are due to be introduced at the restaurant chain by the end of the year, carrying up to 4.4 pounds of food and drink each, according to the BBC. The airborne, unpiloted robots will deliver food within the restaurant by swooping over the heads of diners on paths charted by a computer program, using infra-red sensors placed around the restaurant.

Infinium says the drones will be able to free up staff members to focus more on interacting with customers or other tasks that require higher-level thinking. It’s especially important in Singapore, where the country’s food-and-beverage industry lacks nearly 7,000 people.

“The food-and-beverage (F&B) sector is plagued by a severe shortage of workers,” according to a report from Singapore’s Ministory of Trade and Industry. “Many seemed to attribute this to the low profile of the industry, long and irregular working hours, as well as the negative connotation associated with an F&B service staff.”

It’s a similar situation in the U.S., where the 2012 average annual salary for waiters and waitresses was $18,590, according to the American Job Center. And it’s not easy for the U.S. restaurants to find waiters either: Nearly 43% of open jobs in the food-service industry remain unfilled for longer than three months, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Could U.S. establishments benefit from drone waiters?

“Robots can shift tasks away from humans, and we can do the higher cognitive functions,” said Jonathan Rupprecht, a commercial pilot and practicing lawyer. “Robots can’t do art, can’t mix drinks. They can’t put garnishments on food. You can spend more money on the chef, then free him up with robots that can work long hours.”

The price for the Infinium Robotics drone is not publicly available, but Rupprecht says high-tech drones such as ones used for detection by bomb squads can cost more than $100,000. The DJI Spreading Wings S1000 costs about $3,600.

“But you’re not going to have to pay income taxes or health insurance to robots,” Rupprecht said. “It takes a lot of problems off the table from a business standpoint.”

Singapore has been working to find technological solutions to solve its labor shortage. A Singapore tax credit launched in 2010, the Productivity and Innovation Credit Scheme, allows businesses to get a 400% tax deduction of up to $400,000 for qualifying expenditures.

Read the rest of this article on

Hover mobile app tells you where you can and can’t fly drones

hover app

Dan Held more or less fits the mold of your Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

He always want to fly model planes as a kid, but they were just too expensive. He speaks with a barely noticeable Texas “y’all.” He moved to San Francisco, where his full-time job is with a bitcoin startup. That’s on-top of a bursting resume of other startups and mobile apps that he created in his free-time.

His San Francisco apartment is filled with two DJI Phantoms, some cheap toy drones and homemade FPV racing drones. The FPV drones belong to his roommate, Kevin Johnson, a software developer. Held says his roommate is the reason his latest startup, Hover, exists.

“Kevin bought a Phantom II Vision+,” Held said. “We take it out usually on weekends to Golden Gate Park and do loops around the racing field.”

But they noticed things missing when they flew: a timer to know how long you had been flying. Weather data. News. Knowledge of whether or not you can legally fly in that area.

“We really liked drones, but there wasn’t an app filling our needs,” Held said.

Like most business deals in the Silicon Valley startup world begin, the two roommates, Held and Johnson, merged their skill sets. Johnson is the engineer, and Held is the marketing, design and “idea” guy.

Together, they created Hover, an app for iOS and recently released for Android. Continue reading Hover mobile app tells you where you can and can’t fly drones

Shop burns down after suspected Lipo fire

xQK1NWibx6qEl-2lxBEt0ZM451t6W3jfJzUcjGu5dl8Weeks after a fire broke and swiftly wiped out a 30+ year old San Diego RC Business, owner Jim Bonnardel is still moving forward.

An expert in the RC industry for years, Bonnardel was charging Lipo batteries for his drones to use at an event.

“All of my freshly charged batteries were in a neat little row,” he said. “I was charging them in a ceramic pot that I had been using for years.”

That’s when he went inside his house briefly to get a cup of hot chocolate. As he headed back out, he heard his son yell “Dad, the shop is on fire!”

The fire department was on the scene at about 10:45 p.m. By that time, it had already spread like wildfire.

“When they arrived, on scene, the first thing I let them know was what was up there — batteries and cables,” he said.

The fire department has not determined an official cause, but Bonnardel suspects it was a LiPo fire.

For years, lithium polymer batteries (LiPos) have been known to be dangerous and unpredictable. Dropping, denting or crushing can shorten the life of the battery and even cause an internal short — a recipe for fire. There are a myriad of guidelines for storing, charging and transporting them.

“A battery with little charge will smoke a bit,” Bonnardel said. “A fully charged battery will burst into flames.”

But Bonnardel, having been an RC pilot for 30 years, is among the safest and most cautious of Lipo owners.

“I never expected this to happen,” he said. “I considered myself safe in all my practices.”
He says he suspects he must have charged a battery that already had a full charge. He also said he doesn’t believe it was brand-specific.

“I’m hanging in there,” he said. “It makes you sad when you have to dig through ruble.”

But he is optimistic, using this as an opportunity to educate other drone and RC operators.

“My goal here is I’m just as motivated to get other people to not be complacent and not let their guard down either,” he said.

And Bonnardel is not a novice in the education field. He does non-profit community outreach events involving technology and drones. He participates in SWARM. He holds contests. He works to get young people interested in STEM.

“We’re seeing a huge influx in the demographic of young people getting involved,” he said.

In fact, that’s the very reason he managed to salvage many of his drones. Continue reading Shop burns down after suspected Lipo fire

LiPo battery may have caused RC shop fire

RC pilot Jim Bonnardel has been flying Radio Control aircraft since he was seven-years-old. He’s president of the Silent Electric Flyers of San Diego and owner of Radio Control Specialties.

And on Jan. 16, he watched the shop burn down.

Bonnardel says he suspects it was a LiPo fire,  noting that he was charging a bank of batteries and was on the last one when he stepped away for about 10 minutes.

For years, lithium polymer batteries (LiPos) have gotten a bad rap for being dangerous and unpredictable. Dropping, denting or crushing can shorten the life of the battery and even cause an internal short — a recipe for fire. There are a myriad of guidelines for storing, charging and transporting them.

But for even a highly experienced pilot like Bonnardel, the slightest misstep can cause extreme danger.

So why don’t we just use alkaline batteries — your standard Duracell or Energizer?

“An alkaline battery has much more power than a lithium ion, but it cannot deliver heavy loads,” said Isidor Buchmann, founder and CEO of Cadex Electronics.  “Something like an AA battery is an energy cell, not a power cell. It simply cannot deliver the power needed.”

A drone needs a battery that can handle higher currents. LiPos are power cell batteries, mean they can deliver a lot of energy in a short amount of time. Your standard kitchen clock battery delivers a small amount of power over a long period of time.

“It’s like how a bottle with a bigger mouth can pour out a lot of water more quickly than water with a smaller mouth,” Buchmann said.

John Salt, creator of RC Helicopter Fun, put that amount of energy into perspective.

“Some of my big LiPo packs that I use in some of my largest RC helicopters have as much energy potential stored in them as a couple cups or so of gasoline,” he said. “Get a dozen or so LiPo’s on your work bench and you essentially have a jerry can of gas sitting there from a potential energy standpoint.”

That’s not to say Lithium-ion batteries are not safe.

“Lithium-ion is safe under the right circumstances, but they need to be properly designed and approved,” Buchmann said.

Salt chalks it up to an educational problem.

“LiPo power is just as safe or dangerous as any other high energy fuel source and has to be treated that way,” Salt said.

By that, he recommends storying them in fire safe containers and in safe locations just like fuel.

“Is this “LiPo education” up to the battery manufactures, RC aircraft manufactures, or the individuals flying and using them? I would say all three,” he said.

But there’s one more solution, and DJI, creator of the popular DJI Phantom series of quadcopters, holds the patent to it.

Shortly after the launch of the original Phantom, developers with DJI wanted to ensure that consumers with less experience with soft pack batteries would be able to use them.

“We knew it would be a game changer because it further lowered the barrier for first time pilots interested in quads,” said DJI spokesperson Michael Perry.

Development on the Smart Battery for the Phantom II line of drones began in April 2013.

The Smart Battery’s are also LiPo batteries, with a capacity of 5200 mAh and voltage of 11.1 V. Power management is handled internally, meaning no balance connector is required to charge.

The one major criticism Phantom II users have? The price.

DJI smart batteries cost about $130, in comparison to the $20 LiPo batteries sold on DJI’s site (and often found cheaper on hobby sites).

“We cannot say for now if the price will drop. Part of the reason that the batteries are priced higher than normal LiPos is that all the smart features requires additional hardware (not just the LEDs, but circuitry), software and testing costs,” Perry said. “We feel that the intelligent features that people get out of these batteries corresponds fairly to the price differential with typical batteries.”

And that’s not to say that the DJI Smart Batteries are 100% foolproof.

“Heat is a big enemy of all Lithium battery chemistries, so even a DJI smart pack could be damaged by letting it sit inside a closed vehicle on a hot sunny day for instance,” Salt said. “Chances are it would never start on fire, but there is still some risk there – especially if it’s fully charged.”